Sweden and the Republic of Ireland were forced to share the spoils on Friday night, as the two nations battled it out to a 0-0 draw in a World Cup qualifier at a sub-zero Friends Arena in Stockholm.
The result is no great use to either side in the race for second place in Group C and a place on the plane for Brazil in 2014 – for Sweden, it means they don’t pull away, while for Ireland it means they don’t catch up.
While neither camp will be overjoyed with having to share a point, they will also accept that it was the fair result. Sweden perhaps played the marginally better football, but Ireland worked the harder of the two sides.
They defended superbly in two banks of four, allowing their hosts no space to hurt them in the final third. They broke with fervent enthusiasm whenever the opportunity presented itself, which was quite rarely.
As the game matured however, it turned out to be quite a damp squib. No great football was played by either party involved, and the only world class player on the field – a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic – failed to really turn up and showcase his talent.
It was certainly not the rout that had been touted by many in the Irish media however, and Giovanni Trapattoni can leave Scandinavia taking several positives from the performance, and looking forward to planning a route to Brazil.
The first attempt of the evening came from Ireland, after just four minutes. Marc Wilson laid the ball off for Robbie Keane, whose floated cross from the left was sent wide by Jonathan Walters, who failed to control his header adequately enough to trouble the opposition net.
Shane Long then squandered a fantastic chance six minutes later. After latching onto an accurate through ball from James McCarthy, the Irish striker blazed well over the bar when a little more composure could have resulted in a goal.
As the first half wore on, however, Sweden grew in stature and had their first chance of proceedings with 22 minutes on the clock. The talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed down a clipped long ball to his strike partner Tobias Hysen, whose ambitious volley forced an excellent reaction save from Irish goalkeeper David Forde.
Then, Andreas Granqvist came close for the Swedes. The big defender rose highest in the penalty area to steer a header toward goal following a whipped free-kick from Kim Kallstrom, but Forde was there once again to deny the hosts and keep his sheet clean.
The beginning of the second half was almost entirely bereft of chances, but Swedish winger Sebastian Larsson came within a few feet of helping his side take the lead 16 minutes in. The Sunderland wide man let rip from outside the box, but his rather tame effort sailed harmlessly wide of the post.
With the very last kick of the game however, David Forde pulled another superb stop out of the bag to consolidate the result. Alexander Kacaniklic sent a dangerous effort toward goal, but Forde managed to get across and make the save to send his team away with a point in the bag.
Sweden: Andreas Isaksson; Mikael Lustig (Mikael Antonsson, 46), Jonas Olsson, Andreas Granqvist, Behrang Safari; Rasmus Elm, Sebastian Larsson (Jimmy Durmaz, 87), Kim Kallstrom, Alexander Kacaniklic; Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C), Tobias Hysenn (Ola Toivonen, 73).
Subs not used: Johan Wiland (GK), Kristoffer Nordfelt (GK), Anders Svensson, Erton Fejzullahu, Per Nilsson, Pontus Wernblom, Oscar Wendt, Samuel Holmen, Erkan Zengin
Republic of Ireland: David Forde; Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Ciaran Clark, Marc Wilson; Jonathan Walters, Paul Green, James McCarthy, James McClean (Andy Keogh, 83); Robbie Keane (C) (Wesley Hoolahan, 77), Shane Long (Conor Sammon, 88).
Subs not used: Kieren Westwood (GK), Sean St Ledger, Darren Randolph, Darren O'Dea, Stephen Kelly, Jeff Hendrick, Simon Cox, Robbie Brady.
Booked: Green (40), McCarthy (75), Coleman (77)
Referee: Undiano Mallenco.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: James McCarthy (Rep Ireland).